Every year around the holidays, readers ask about ways to volunteer with their children in New York City. It's not as easy as you think. Many charitable organizations have age minimums for their projects, and even when you do find family-friendly volunteering opportunities, they often book up weeks in advance.
With Thanksgiving approaching, we want to highlight some great ways NYC kids and their parents can give back to those in need. We're including opportunities for children of all ages so everyone can participate. While kids might not be able to work in a soup kitchen, they can help the homeless, hungry, and elderly in other meaningful ways.
Here are 11 family-friendly ways to put the "giving" in your Thanksgiving.
Help make blankets and more for those in need. Photo courtesy of Catholic Charities
Catholic Charities National Family Volunteer Day — Midtown East
Cathedral High School
350 East 56th Street
Saturday, November 18
Catholic Charities kicks off its holiday volunteer opportunities with this special family day of service. Head to Cathedral High School to help the organization make no-sew blankets for residence homes, holiday centerpieces for senior centers, and Christmas cards and blessings bags to be distributed over the course of the season. Register asap as slots are limited to 200. Recommended for kids ages 3 and up.
The Race to Deliver raises money for meals for the needy. Photo by Jessica Frankl/courtesy of GLWD.
The Race to Deliver — Central Park
Sunday, November 19; 8:30am for adult race; 10am for kids' races
This God's Love We Deliver fundraiser is super-fun for kids. This four-mile adults' run/walk in Central Park is followed by a variety of children's races sponsored by New York Road Runners. The fundraising goal for this year is $400,000. Sign up as a family, join a pre-existing team, or sponsor a runner or team, all through the GLWD website.
The 2017 Thousand Turkey Challenge — Upper West Side
Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew
263 West 86th Street, between Broadway and West End Avenue
Sunday, November 19, 12:15–1:30pm
Perfect for younger kids, this event includes a turkey-drawing contest. Pick up a frozen turkey and donate it to the West Side Campaign Against Hunger (WSCAH), which provides Thanksgiving staples to local low-income families. More than 1000 families received turkeys and other seasonal foods at the church's emergency pantry last year. Note: You can purchase a turkey at the Gristedes supermarket next door. Small turkeys up to 14 pounds are preferred.
Kids can pack meals and make holiday cards with FeedingNYC 2017. Photo by Jonathan Wolff/courtesy of FeedingNYC.
FeedingNYC 2017 — Chelsea
Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers
23rd Street and the West Side Highway
Tuesday, November 21, shifts run all day beginning at 6am
Since 2001, this grassroots organization has delivered more than 50,000 complete Thanksgiving meals to New York City families in shelters. Join with 400 volunteers to pack and deliver meals. All ages can participate, but volunteers younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult and have a signed waiver.
Thanksgiving Morning Meal Delivery — Citywide
Thursday, November 23
God's Love We Deliver prepares and delivers nutritious meals to people living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening illnesses. Volunteers can sign up to help prepare and deliver meals in locations around the city. While this project takes place on Thanksgiving morning, families should have plenty of time for their own festivities. Volunteer drivers must have a driver's license and their own car, and register in advance. Kids are welcome to participate. Their presence cheers up any delivery. There is a cap to the volunteers they can accept, and certain neighborhoods fill up fast, so register now if you want to help. Some destinations already have wait lists.
Kids are welcome to help grown-ups pack meals at Gobble Gobble Give NYC. Photo by Timothy Holland/courtesy of the event.
Gobble Gobble Give NYC — Harlem
The Church of the Intercession, 550 West 155th Street
Thursday November 23, 8am–12:30pm (sign up for one of three shifts)
This volunteer organization collects potluck dishes, along with toiletries and blankets, and delivers hot meals and care packages to the homeless around the city on Thanksgiving Day. All work is complete by 12:30pm so you can enjoy your own holiday dinner. Volunteer tasks include kitchen crew, conveyor belt crew, food boxers, vehicle coordinators, drivers, and cleanup. Children are welcome with an adult. Volunteers must register online and everyone is required to bring a Thanksgiving dish. Registration will begin in early November. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up.
More Holiday Volunteer Options
Dorot's Card-Making Program – Citywide
The community-based organization Dorot has plenty of family-friendly volunteer opportunities to ease the stress homebound seniors face. Its card-making program is easy for even young volunteers. Families are asked to create birthday or holiday cards, and mail them to Dorot. The organization then mails your crafty creations to homebound seniors to brighten their holiday.
CAMBA – Brooklyn
Fill up the cart at the grocery store with your kids, let them pick some items, and then bring it over to one of CAMBA's several canned food donation points in Brooklyn. The nonprofit feeds thousands every night and says the need never lets up. The organization offers services and housing to the homeless, too. Call ahead to find out out what's on its shelters' must-have lists at this time of year.
Masbia Soup Kitchen Network – Brooklyn and Queens
Various locations, see website for details.
Masbia operates soup kitchens in Flatbush and Borough Park, Brooklyn, as well as Rego Park in Queens, and welcomes the help of volunteers 10 and older to serve hot meals to all who enter. Volunteers are welcome for onsite work, such as playing host in the restaurant-style dining rooms, bussing tables, washing dishes, prepping meals, and working in the kitchen. Volunteers are also needed to distribute flyers to individuals who might need Masbia's services.
New York Cares Coat Drive – Citywide
2017 collection kicks off in November
Another great opportunity for young children, who might ask why the Statue of Liberty is seen huddled and shivering in the snow on ads at this time of year. New York Cares' annual coat drive provides homeless and low-income families with something warm to wear. Donate gently used coats of all sizes or even start your own drive in your building or school. Collection sites are located around the city in transportation hubs, police stations, and participating stores. Check the New York Cares website for a complete list of drop-off locations.
NY Common Food Pantry 2017 Turkey Drive – Citywide
The New York Common Food Pantry provided more than 6 million Thanksgiving meals to those in need last year year. Consider organizing your own drive at home, work, or school to help the pantry collect food to distribute to low-income New York families. Nonperishable items such as canned cranberry sauce, rice, gravy, stuffing mix, cake mix, pasta, and canned beans are best. No glass jars, please.
Remember, many charities accept Halloween candy for our military and their families, as well as children.
To find additional kid-friendly ways to give back to the New York City community, subscribe to the FREE Doing Good Together/NY newsletter, a monthly roundup of local volunteer opportunities appropriate for families.
Top image: Families can serve and pack meals at Gobble Gobble NYC. Photo by Timothy Holland/courtesy of the event.